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Faceoff in Olympia over felon rights versus victim rights

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(The Center Square) – Debate continues during the ongoing legislative session in Olympia over the release of sexually violent predators into communities across the state.

A Republican lawmaker says Democratic leaders are refusing to consider legislation that would could address community concerns.

“With the outcry last year when communities were finding out that offenders released from the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island were living in their communities without public knowledge or input, they decided to meet with stakeholders to come up with a better plan,” Rep. Dan Griffey, R-Allyn, told The Center Square.

He is the prime sponsor of House Bill 2093 to improve accountability, transparency and oversight when it comes to civil commitment of sexually violent predators.

“We worked with SCC and a representative from the Attorney General’s Office and put on a whiteboard what we each believed was broken in the system,” Griffey added. “I was shocked to find out that SCC staff thought the system was just as broken as we thought it was, with sexually violent predators being released who shouldn’t be released because they are still a danger to society.”

Courts were just assigning release into LRAs (Less Restrictive Alternatives) which are privately run, but publicly-funded homes for SCC offenders to live in, and communities were finding out after the offender was already in their neighborhood, according to Griffey

HB 2093 would ensure all LRAs are owned, operated or contracted through the state.

“Under the current system, DSHS often works with private for-profit, third-party operators who, in some cases, have refused to allow on-site inspections, creating a gaping hole in the oversight of these facilities,” Griffey explained.

In addition, House Bill 2093 would redefine where sexually violent predators can be released, place new restrictions on the siting of LRAs, and add specific notification and engagement requirements for DSHS with local governments, law enforcement, prosecutors, and community members before an LRA can be sited.

Griffey expressed frustration that his bill hasn’t received a hearing, while while bills that give offenders more rights are rapidly moving ahead.

Two of those measures – House Bill 2001 and House Bill 2065 – are sponsored by Rep. Tara Simmons, D-Bremerton.

The former would establish a process for providing discretion to modify sentences of certain convicted sex offenders, while the latter would recalculate sentencing ranges for currently incarcerated individuals whose offender score was increased by juvenile convictions.

“As you all know, I was the first formerly incarcerated state lawmaker in the nation to take office, now there are six,” Simmons said before a public committee hearing last month.

“It’s a blessing and a curse to know their stories,” she said, referring to those incarcerated. “I know the overwhelming contribution these individuals can make if given the opportunity, and I know that they were victims first.”

Russ Spiegelman with the Citizens Action Defense Fund testified against HB 2001.“This bill would give judges too much discretion in resentencing,” he said. “The bill is an unnecessary expansion of our existing justice system under existing sentencing powers.”From a safety standpoint, Spiegelman said releasing offenders before they have completed their sentences is putting people at greater risk.“The people of this state already have the worst law enforcement officer to civilian ratio of any state at 1.36 per 1,000,” he observed.Both of Simmons’ bills are scheduled for executive action Monday in the House Appropriations Committee.

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